Interview with Doug StanWiens

I interviewed Doug StanWiens, a local high school teacher who is both a public historian and a digital humanist.  Doug StanWiens is a very involved member of the Boise community.  On top of teaching at Boise High School, he runs the Boise Architecture Project, and he is Vice President of Preservation Idaho.  I tried to focus my questions on his work with the Boise Architecture Project (BAP); but, I soon found out that Doug StanWiens’ many positions, teacher, preservationist, public historian, digital humanist, and  head of BAP, often mix.

The BAP is “a student-directed new media project focused on architectural history and preservation in the Treasure Valley.”  The primary part of the project can be found at boisearchitecture.org.  Here historians, preservationists, and interested citizens will find pictures, architectural descriptions, and building history for over 350 buildings in and around Boise.  One of the great parts of this project is the diversity of the buildings the students choose to research and report on; one can find buildings over 100 years old, and one can find buildings that are relatively new on this student programmed website.  Students do most of the work for the BAP!  Students take photos, conduct interviews, and write a research paper about the building they select for their addition to the BAP.  On the website, a short summary of the building’s history and architectural style is accompanied by select photos.  Some auxiliary functions of the BAP include “conducting architecture walks, blogging, documentary film making, volunteering for local history related events, and working with local preservation organizations.”  The BAP is becoming a rather inclusive organization and certainly serving the local community.

Doug StanWiens explained that the BAP has many goals, and that the majority of the goals are student oriented.  He hopes that the BAP will help students learn about local history.  He also hopes that the BAP will help students understand and appreciate different architectural styles as well as their connection to history.  Of equal importance, Doug StanWiens hopes that the BAP will allow students the ability to contribute their research to the greater Boise community.  This project is a win-win for all the parties involved.  Students are able to learn beyond the classroom by studying architecture, acquiring historical knowledge of their city, and meeting the community. Students are able to “learn important project skills such as architectural photography, oral interview techniques, and digital project management through participating in the BAP.”  The BAP truly is a digital education project.

Doug StanWiens is in his 17th year of teaching.  He started the BAP as a Spring Project to fill the gap that follows the AP tests towards to end of the year.  He wanted to do something fun as well as meaningful with his Advanced Placement United States History (APUSH) students.  His inspiration for BAP was a class in architecture history he took as an undergraduate.  Doug StanWiens informed me that he took this class for fun, because it was the “cool class all the seniors took and you got to get off campus to look at awesome buildings.”  At the time, he never thought the class would have such an impact on him.  In effect, he tried to recreate his architecture history class, without the field trip aspect of course, for his APUSH students.  Because the field trip aspect was such a vital part of the project, he split the class into partners and had them visit their historically and architecturally significant buildings in order to create PowerPoint Presentations.  One of Doug StanWiens students offered to put the PowerPoint Presentations on a website and Doug StanWiens said that sounded like a great idea.  The project started with ten students choosing buildings they saw as historically or architecturally significant, and it has transformed into an ongoing project with over 350 projects.

BAP has grown a lot over the years.  Doug StanWiens informed me that he has a list of buildings that individuals throughout the community have asked him to add to the BAP.  This means that the project has gained widespread public support, and that students have a ready and reliable list of buildings to choose from.  The BAP was picked up by Preservation Idaho, something that is mutually beneficial for both organizations.  Preservation Idaho fulfills BAP’s need for funding and BAP fulfills Preservation Idaho’s need for education and advocacy.  The BAP also received a grant from Boise 150 that is allowing them to create fourteen documentary films explaining the building of Boise.  In these films, Doug StanWiens, with the help of students of course, hopes to explain the architectural and historical significance of buildings throughout Boise.  He also hopes to put the buildings in Boise into a national context, thereby demonstrating how national culture can be illustrated and exemplified through national architecture.

One of the things that shocked me about all the things BAP has accomplished is that it is not a class at Boise High School.  APUSH students work on it after their AP exams in May, but students are also working on BAP related activities throughout the year.  Doug StanWiens hosts meetings before school, at lunch, and after school.  He also has a teaching assistant that helps him with the BAP, but the BAP is not a class in it of itself.  Many students offer to help raise funds for BAP, give architectural tours downtown, and otherwise help the BAP as part of their service learning hours.  Judging from all the work the BAP has to do, I would not be surprised if it becomes a class in the near future.

As an educator, I was very interested in how Doug StanWiens tied architecture into his everyday curriculum.  He said that the BAP “changed how he teaches APUSH” as well as his other classes.  He encourages students to see the links between history, art, architecture, and national culture.  He strives to tie all of these things together in his curriculum.  He strives to use architecture, particularly buildings in Boise so that students can easily relate to them, to explain culture and identity.  In essence, Doug StanWiens is bringing history alive for his students.

At the beginning of the interview, Doug StanWiens said that he was surprised I was interviewing him as a public historian.  He said he was a digital humanist and an educator, but he did not see himself as a public historian.  After a short explanation on my part, we continued the interview.  At the end of the interview he said “You know, you are right, I am a public historian.”  He said he became a teacher because he wanted to help students get out into the public.  He wants his students to learn by experience and thereby benefit society later in life.  As for advice, Doug StanWiens said that I should take all of my classes seriously, because I never know how they will affect me later in life.  He also reassured me that education is a very fulfilling career choice.

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